I love beets. Pickled or plain they please me. I like the greens too. My husband professes a dislike for beet greens, a fact which I can’t quite get my head around. This winter, sing the bags upon bags of beet greens in the freezer, we shall find our way to his stomach by so many circuitous routes that when we are gone he will miss us. I smile knowing at some point he will read this and think himself forewarned. Determined do I rise to the challenge.
I did up beets for the freezer this week. Beets aren’t like beans, rinsed and tidy. Beets come with dirt and grit and infinite red juices. I can only wipe the oozing red pink from the counters so many times without remembering my mother over a boiling pot of pink.
It was Halloween, a definite NOT holiday for us. My mother the minister’s wife had helped the church get an All Saints Day party off the ground instead. Kids were asked to go as a character from the Bible. My mother suggested I go as Lydia, the seller of purple, and promised to make me a purple tunic. By make, she meant dye a sheet and towel the appropriate color and wrap it around me. I can still picture us standing in the aisle at the drugstore reading directions on different colors of purple Rit dye.
At home in the kitchen, my mother stirred my sheet in a canning pot of water and dye, less than impressed.
That’s not purple, it’s beet red. Could have made this color myself for free, she said.
We dried the sheet and towel, and dressed me for the party. All along the way she muttered about throwing in a few beets for free and $5 for something that could hardly be called purple.
I didn’t mind the wrong colored garments so much as being twelve and wondering if I really belonged anymore at something for little kids, but being twelve turned out to be an advantage. The woman assigned to run the evening, leader of all games and parties, upon whom all eyes would be fixed at all intervals requiring direction . . . being twelve, it was hard to miss the horror in my mother’s eyes when they saw each other. My awkwardness changed to absolute delight as our host’s bright red lips and ample bedecked bosom jiggled over to greet us. A fifty something, slightly overweight church lady host, enthusiastically dressed as Rahab, the prostitute. I gazed at her very fine impression of a hooker and felt glad indeed to have agreed to come. Thirty years later, I’m still slicing beets and smiling.
The numbers of people potentially offended or irritated by this post grow in my mind with every passing second. Nevertheless, it happened on County Road 21, and seemed to me both true and beautiful.
Dinner time was drawing to a close. My son thought he remembered that it was All Soul’s Day. I explained that All Saints Day was Nov. 1, All Souls Day on Nov. 2, and therefore past. Remembering the dead is not something I do easily. Sometimes I celebrate my mother’s birthday. Sometimes I do not. Although the dead I know now include my mother, my paternal grandparents, and my miscarried children, it is only on some days that I find myself comfortable loving across the chasm that divides us. The loving seems too often to come with aching.
This difficulty with the dead does not exist for my children. Maybe because they have tasted death mostly in farm animals, or maybe because they are children and see things differently. My son didn’t worry himself with fine lines of time and place.
“I’m going to say a prayer anyway,” he said cheerfully. Chewing. Thinking. We waited.
“Ok everybody, get your glass. I’m asking this prayer for all the people in palliative care right now. Cheers.” He raised his glass and waited for us to clink glasses with him.
“Do you know what palliative care means?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s people that are dying.” He smiled and raised his glass to clink against mine.
The idea was very enthusiastically received. Other children’s prayers and glass clinking quickly followed. Their father tried valiantly to maintain the dignity of the occasion while being asked to clink his beer bottle with everyone after each of the prayers. We made it through without laughing until we cried by avoiding each other’s eyes until it was all over.
My worries about how strange we are got the best of me. “Ok, so this was really nice,” I said. “It was a good thing you all did, saying those prayers, doing cheers. But just so you know, there isn’t anywhere else in the world where people do it like that. You won’t ever find a place where people are praying and raising glasses to say cheers afterwards. It’s fine. It’s good. I just wanted you to know that people might not get it if you tried it somewhere else.”
Quizzical looks. Shoulder shrugs. Mom is strange. Business as usual. Are there any more Doritos?
“There’s something right about it, you know?” my husband said when it was over. “I mean I know it’s different. I can’t really explain it. But there’s something good about it. Something that’s the way it should be.”
He’s right. They’re right. So may God bless you, my readers. May love hold each of you gently and tenderly today. Pour the milk. Pour the wine. Cheers. Raise a glass.